A couple of weekends ago my writing prompt was this photo, which made me think instantly of Patty Larkin’s wonderful song, “Traveling Alone,” and that brought up an old memory. The scenery isn’t quite right for the memory, but the time of year is the same.
My family used to drive up to the snow in the winters, to go skiing at Boreal. I never liked skiing and preferred to sit in the lodge drinking Odwalla Mango Tango (it’s what they had, and I never was big on hot cocoa), reading books, and watching the beautiful 20-something snowboarder boys with all the longing of my 14-year-old heart.
But it was the drives north that I really loved. We’d stay the night at my grandpa‘s house in Sacramento, and then leave first thing in the morning, round five or so, my sisters and me drowsing in the back seats of the minivan. At Auburn my parents would stop at McDonald’s and we’d be nudged from our doze with hot paper-wrapped Egg McMuffins and cold sweating orange juices handed back to us by my mother. I’d eat my sandwich and drink my juice, eyes waking up slowly to the brilliant white light, the tall pines, the mountains, the few other cars making their way along the grey highway.
Shortly after I turned 13 I started to bring my dad’s big noise-canceling headphones and our portable CD player along with us on these trips, so I’d watch our way through the world in my own private space of Alanis Morissette or Hootie and the Blowfish. Around that time I started to dream hard about what I could do when I grew up, meaning when I got to be the grand old age of 23 or so. I’d be so much taller, and thinner, and I’d be confident and beautiful and capable in every way.
I knew that nothing could stop a woman like that from doing whatever she pleased. I could have any job I wanted, do anything, but what I’d do was take a road trip just like this, but solo: just me and my car and my music and the great wide road. I’d go everywhere and see everything, no destination in mind, not stopping till I wanted to. And if I chanced to meet some interesting guy along the way — a fellow lone traveler — we might share a meal and some stories, and later we might pull off together in some town somewhere in the black night, and he might take my hand and — heart beating, that’s as far as I could imagine.
Funny thing is, I still haven’t taken that solo road trip. I’ve done these meandering aimless journeys with Erik several times, and they’ve been as spontaneous and freeing as I imagined in my parents’ backseat. But as I became an adult, the vision of being a lone Asian woman in a nowhere town came to fill me with fear, not joy — and going into hotel rooms with unknown guys? Forget it! I never grew much taller, or thinner, and my belief in my own strength and power ends when I think of defending myself from even the stares of strange men. Where is that do-anything heroine of my adolescent daydreams? I’m still waiting for her, still waiting.